…I stopped by the feed store and gas station to see my old friend Jack the other day and found him behind the counter at the cash register

“I need a sack of cat food and another for the dogs,” I told him.

“It must be time to feed the critters again,” he grinned.

“Yeah,” I chuckled, “we ran out yesterday and I’m worried I might be on the menu if the barn cats I don’t get them something to eat.”

Jack gave me a good-natured grin just as a flurry of customers walked through the door. I stepped away from the counter planning to continue our conversation after they left.

It’s always good when you bump into a friend or neighbor you haven’t seen for a while. When that happens, no matter how busy, we take a few minutes to chat. It’s how a far-flung community keep in touch with each other’s lives…

…at the end of the customer rush, a young employee came in from the gas pumps giving Jack a handful of change.

“How much is it?” Jack asked.

“A dollar and eighty-five cents,” the young man replied, returning to the gas pumps.

“Must be the day before payday,” I commented, as Jack slipped the change in the cash register.

“That’s happening more and more,” Jack said, “people just don’t have any money around here.”

He went on, “Just a few days ago, a guy came in and paid for gas with pennies. We didn’t think much about it until later when we noticed that every one was a ‘wheat’ penny minted before 1943.”

Both of us got very quiet…

like summer thunder rolling
around the rimrock, questions rumbled
through our minds–
trading pennies for gas,
someone’s future for a short ride

…I couldn’t imagine a scenario where someone…WASN’T…in a tough spot when they had to spend their collectible pennies for that dribble of gas in their tank.

Whatever the cause, the economy has never recovered in farm and ranch country and the rising gas prices make things worse. We need to find new ways to support the people in our own communities and help each other hang on.

Perhaps that support might be nothing more than an unasked-for-smile or reassuring words. Maybe, if you have a few extra dollars, it’s paying ahead part of someone’s gas bill. That might be the only break a person gets before they go home and break into their kid’s future college fund stowed in their piggy bank.

Quietly, Jack tossed the cat and dog food in the back of my pickup. We asked about each other’s family and livestock. Then, like old friends do, we swapped a couple lame jokes. Neither of us was feeling especially witty right then.

It’s always good talking with old friends, even if they bring news that the times are still hard. Carefully, I backed my truck out of the parking lot and headed home, a good place to be.

Sleep well, we’ll talk again…..

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